- BC Games
Delta teachers to take strike vote
Delta teachers will joining their counterparts across the province to vote on another mandate to strike March 4-6, according to an announcement made by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation on Tuesday.
“Unreasonable proposals” from the province’s negotiating team include wage increases lower than what other public sector unions have received, and a continued refusal to put class size and special needs support limits back into the contract, BCTF president Jim Iker told a news conference in Vancouver.
In January the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the province must retroactively restore classes size and composition language that was removed from teachers’ contracts in 2002, and pay the union $2 million in damages. But the B.C. Court of Appeal suspended that ruling on Wednesday, and with the recent budget tabled by the BC Liberal government the BCTF has little to celebrate.
Paul Steer, president of the Delta Teachers’ Association, says teachers are feeling discouraged that their workplace concerns aren’t being addressed by government and dismissed by the public.
“All of the teachers I’ve talked to want to be in their classrooms, supported, and to see their students’ needs met with resources and adequate budget support, and of course fair and reasonable salary for themselves,” he said.
Steer downplayed the strike threat, saying it’s routine and normal within the context of the BC Labour Relations Code.
“It’s one of the few ways in which a union can put pressure on the bargaining table and the employer to come to a reasonable and fair settlement short of a strike,” he said.
Steer said the Liberal government has been driven by other priorities and budget austerity that doesn’t take into account the Supreme Court ruling.
Delta school board chair Laura Dixon said the appeal court’s stay means the current staffing, school organization, and budget remain unchanged and that the 2014-15 budgeting process will move forward as planned. It will still be challenging, as the district is faced with additional costs from a BC Hydro rate increase and the CUPE collective agreement settlement.
“The Delta Board of Education will work with our education partners to ensure that student learning and our district vision are at the heart of the budget process,” said Dixon.
There will be a budget input meeting during the next school board meeting on March 11, at 7:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, Education Minister Peter Fassbender said wage negotiations “have to start somewhere” and after a year of bargaining, the BCTF has yet to present a wage demand. He declined to provide specifics of the government offer, but said classroom conditions are on the negotiating table.
“Clearly we’re at the table with class size and composition,” Fassbender said. “Our negotiators presented a package of proposals. We are still waiting to see the full proposal, including the wages, from the BCTF.”
Iker confirmed the union has not yet made a wage proposal, after a year of negotiations to replace a contract that expired in June 2013. The union described the government’s offer as a 0.5 per cent increase on ratification, not retroactive to the past year, making it three years with no increase.
Iker said any strike action would be phased in, and would not immediately include forcing teachers to stop extra-curricular volunteer work, withholding report cards or walking off the job.
Peter Cameron, appointed last year as chief negotiator for B.C.’s 60 school boards, said Tuesday he is surprised the union is going to a strike vote without tabling its complete position. There have been hints at the bargaining table that the BCTF has an “extreme” wage demand, he said.
Cameron said the BCTF has characterized the public school system as being in “free fall,” when in fact completion rates have improved over the 12 years when class size and support have been in dispute.
“The graduation rate for special needs kids, for aboriginal kids, has gone up dramatically since 2001,” Cameron said.
– with files from Tom Fletcher